207. ‘Day Tripper’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’, by The Beatles

The Fab Four claim their third straight Christmas number one (before Christmas number ones were a thing, but still), and they do so with their most straight-up rock record yet.

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Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out, by The Beatles (their 9th of seventeen #1s)

5 weeks, from 16th December 1965 – 20th January 1966

There’s a riff – a riff we all know – dun-duh-duh-duh-duh-dun-dada-da-dada – (riffs never really work when written out…) which keeps on going till the end. It’s a riff record – maybe, just maybe, they’d been listening to The Stones –a great, straight-up rock song.

I like the way the intro builds: guitar, then bass, then drums, and the way that the solo is basically the riff, beefed-up. It’s a simple song – there’s no reinventing the wheel here. I guess it’s experimental, in the sense that they’re experimenting with a heavier sound, but that’s stretching it a bit. It’s a John Lennon number, and one of the things I like most about him is that he never lost his rock ‘n’ roll roots, never stopped being a fan of Chuck and Buddy, no matter how avant-garde he and his bandmates seemed to get.

Of course, like any great rock song, there’s a fair amount of raunch here too. She’s a big teaser, She took me half the way there now… Not much imagination needed. Especially after Lennon admitted that he would have made it ‘prick teaser’, had he been allowed. Tried to please her, She only played one night stands… So on and so forth. Another layer of innuendo comes when you consider the ‘trip’ aspect of the lyrics. A ‘day tripper’ would be someone who only drops acids on special occasions. A weekend hippy, a ‘Sunday driver’.

Whether it’s about drugs or sex, or both, doesn’t really matter, though. This is a cracking rock number – one that I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with for this post. It’s one of those Beatles songs that kind of gets lost among the mega-hits. But, actually, listen to the soooooo long growl, and the way that the solo ascends to a climax with a hint of ‘Twist and Shout’, and try telling me that this isn’t one of their best. And, come to think of it, I can think of two other songs off the top of my head in which the ‘Day Tripper’ riff makes an appearance: ‘Hair of the Dog’, which gleefully rips it off to the extent that when Guns N’ Roses covered it they gave up the pretence and by the end were just playing the Beatles’ riff, and The Wildhearts’ ‘My Baby Is a Headfuck’. So maybe I’m underestimating it…

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What of the flip-side? We’ve not had a double-‘A’ side #1 for a while (nearly three years to be precise) and ‘We Can Work It Out’ is the perfect companion for ‘Day Tripper’, in that it sounds pretty much the opposite. I’ve always thought that double-‘A’s should contrast, one should be the yin to the other’s yang, and so gone is the electric guitar and the bravado, replaced by acoustics and recriminating.

It’s a folk-rock waltz of a record, in which Paul McCartney muses on a failing relationship: Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?… Think of what you’re saying, You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s all right… He remains positive – the title is ‘We Can Work It Out’ after all – but if you listen closely to the lyrics it becomes clear that any compromise will be on his terms: While you see it your way, There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long… Very passive-aggressive… Actually, the more I listen, the more I realise how the singer of this song is being a bit of a dick. Life is very short, And there’s no time, For fussing and fighting my friend… (So hurry up and just admit I’m right!)

The accordion-slash-harpsichord sounding instrument which characterises this disc – the one that creates the woozy, trippy feel at the end of the bridge, and that closes the song with a little riff – is a harmonium, apparently. This is where pop music has been heading throughout 1965, with the baroque-folk stylings of The Byrds, Sonny and Cher and The Walker Brothers, and it’s nice to close out the year in this way. A sign of where The Beatles were heading. ‘Rubber Soul’ was released while this disc sat at #1, and ‘Revolver’ would be coming up very shortly after.

This was The Beatles first double-‘A’ side as they couldn’t agree on which record was the more commercial sounding. Lennon was the one who forced ‘Day Tripper’ to get equal-billing, but in terms of airplay at the time ‘We Can Work It Out’ was the winner. In the US they were released separately, with ‘We Can Work It Out’ hitting the top of the Billboard 100 and ‘Day Tripper’ only making #5. But for me rock always wins. ‘Day Tripper’ all the way…

And so we cross the midway point of The Beatles’ chart-topping run. Nine down, seven to go. To celebrate, I thought I’d do a quick rank of the hits that have gone so far. Based solely on personal preference not artistic merit. Let me know if you agree or are scandalised by my ignorance. In ascending order (worst – best), then:

We Can Work It Out > Can’t Buy Me Love > From Me To You > I Feel Fine > A Hard Day’s Night > Ticket to Ride > I Want to Hold Your Hand > Day Tripper > Help! > She Loves You

Actually, that was really hard and kind of pointless. I don’t dislike any of those songs. A ‘bad’ Beatles disc is another act’s signature song. But it’ll be interesting to add the next seven to the list, and to see where they fit in. Anyway, look! Suddenly it’s 1966. Onwards!

Listen to every number one so far – by The Fab Four or otherwise – with this playlist:

206. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers

Another dose of easy-listening, faux-folk from Australia’s biggest band? (That wasn’t a question – you’re getting it whether you like it or not.)

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The Carnival Is Over, by The Seekers (their 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, from 25th November – 16th December 1965

I just about managed to see the positive side of The Seekers’ first number one, ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’, for all it’s tweeness. But I think I’ll have to draw the line here… The term ‘dirge’ has cropped up once or twice in recent entries – The Beatles experimented with it in the background on ‘Ticket to Ride’, while ‘I Got You Babe’, for all its cuteness, was propped up with a pretty flat bass rhythm. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, though, is A Dirge, plain and simple.

The beat plods, the backing vocals are lifeless. You can almost picture the coffin being lowered into the ground. You start wishing they’d just get on with it… Say goodbye, My own true lover, As we sing, A lover’s song, How it breaks it my heart to leave you, Now the carnival is gone… Judith Durham, the lead singer, is once again on fine Sunday school teacher round the campfire form. Don’t get me wrong, she sings it very well; but it’s painfully proper.

It’s a song about two lovers, Pierrot and Columbine. Has Columbine fallen in love with a traveller? A handsome stranger who set up camp for a week or two? It’d have to have been a sailing carnival, thanks to the line about ‘harbour lights’… So maybe not. Or is ‘the carnival’ a metaphor for love, a love that’s no longer? Though the carnival is over, I will love you ‘till I die…

This record follows the same formula as The Seekers’ first #1, in that it was written and produced by Tom (brother of Dusty) Springfield. The melody was borrowed from an old Russian folk song, and once you learn that you think ‘Yes!’, this tune would make complete sense when bellowed out by a sturdy serf, gathering hay on the steppe. Not so much as a hit single in 1965. Yes, yes, yes it’s part of the folk-rock movement that’s become huge this year, but it’s a spectacularly lifeless song. You just want to shake them by the shoulders and tell them to liven it up a bit.

Apparently Springfield was inspired to write the lyrics after seeing the Rio carnival. Which seems hard to believe, as this record doesn’t exactly scream samba and piña coladas on the beach. In the bridge, there is an attempt at livening things up, with a nifty Spanish guitar riff. But that’s it. Plus the bridge also has a line about kisses ‘sweet as wine’, which is a metaphor I’ve never understood, what with most wines not being sweet at all. It should be ‘sweet as sherry’ is all I’m saying.

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And so we plod to a close. That’s that for The Seekers at the top of the UK charts. They would have three further Top 10 singles before splitting in 1968. They’ve reformed twice since then, and still perform to this day, minus Durham who retired in 2013. They were huge in their homeland, and were even voted ‘Australians of the Year’. I can see why, too, what with US and UK acts dominating since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s always nice to feel a local connection to a successful artist.

One more thing to say about ‘The Carnival Is Over’ – it was a spectacularly high-selling record. Late 1965 seems to have been a high point for record sales as, after Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ had become the 3rd best-selling single of the decade, this disc also did well over a million. At last count it was sitting at No. 30 in the best-sellers of all time list. Not bad for a dirge. I’m clearly in the minority…

205. ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’, by The Rolling Stones

Barging Ken Dodd out of the way, snapping one of his tickling sticks and giving him the finger… It’s The Rolling Stones!

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Get Off Of My Cloud, by The Rolling Stones (their 5th of eight #1s)

3 weeks, from 4th – 25th November 1965

They’re still angry, still dissatisfied with modern life, with complaining neighbours and, once again, detergent. What did Mick and Keith have against detergent…? Like ‘Satisfaction’, which was at #1 just six weeks before this, ‘Get Off of My Cloud’ tells an anti-hero’s story in three verses, against a frantic drumbeat and another scuzzily insistent riff.

It’s clearly another response to their new-found fame, their new-found position as The Beatles’ one true rivals to the throne. But all they want to do is be left alone. In each verse, Mick tries to escape the world around him: I sit at home looking out the window, Imagining the world has stopped… and I was sick and tired of this, Decided to take a drive downtown… It’s a response to, and another symptom of, their fame. This was a #1 in both the UK and the US, as well as Canada and Germany, and no other band could have taken a record as raw and aggressive as this to the top of the charts around the world.

It’s also a very hard song to sing. There are several points where I have no idea what is being sung, Charlie Watt’s drums and the guitars being so prominent in the mix, with Jagger’s vocals submerged under them. My favourite bit is when he almost starts rapping the phone-call from his neighbour, asking him and his friends to shut up because it’s 3 a.m. The telephone is ringing I say ‘Hi, it’s me, who’s there on the line? A voice says ‘Hi, hello, how are you?’ Well I guess I’m doin’ fine…

In the end, though, he finds some solace. He takes a drive downtown, where it’s nice and peaceful, and falls asleep. Whether or not he’s under the influence of something isn’t established… He wakes up to parking tickets, but I don’t think he cares – he’s Mick Jagger and he’s rich as piss. How the tickets look like flags, I don’t know. And I have no idea who the guy dressed up like a Union Jack is meant to be.

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It’s a weird song. A scrappy, messy, glorious song. Apparently Keith Richards doesn’t look back on it too fondly, what with it being rushed out in order to capitalise on ‘Satisfaction’s success. And yes, the sound is a bit off, and the mix a bit bass heavy, and the lyrics pretty much cover the same ground as ‘Satisfaction’, but that’s part of this record’s charm. It really does sound like it was recorded in a garage, in one take, and while the sound is far removed from their bluesy roots, this is in keeping with The Stones as a rough and ready rock ‘n’ roll band.

But if that doesn’t convince you, at least you can’t deny the hook. Hey! – hey – You! – you – Get off of my cloud! Who hasn’t wanted to yell that at someone who’s been bringing them down, when you just want a bit of peace and quiet. Don’t hang around cos two’s a crowd…

Looking back at The Stones three #1s from this year, we have three masterpieces of attitude and anger. Gone are the blues covers, in comes ‘The Last Time’ with its disparaging swagger, ‘Satisfaction’ with that riff and it’s dissatisfaction with fame and modern living, and now this… more dissatisfaction with fame, modern living and the whole bloody world. And, taking these three discs and standing them side by side next to The Beatles three 1965 chart-toppers – ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘Help!’ and ‘Day Tripper’, which is coming up in a couple of posts time… I’m going to go out on a limb and say The Stones’ output – solely talking about the chart-toppers, here – was, for the moment, trumping the Fab Four’s.

Not that it would last… But that’s a story for another day.

Follow along with my Spotify playlist:

204. ‘Tears’, by Ken Dodd

The best thing about a pop chart, about a list of the best-selling songs in any given week, is that anything can, technically, get to the top. Get enough people to buy it, download it, stream it, whatever, and you get yourself a #1 single.

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Tears, by Ken Dodd (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 30th September – 4th November 1965

Which means, try as you might to apply some kind of sense to the ebb and flow of number ones, to christen new eras and to identify the overall ‘sound’ of a time, you’ll always get anomalies. Which means… In amongst The Beatles and The Stones, The Byrds and the Baroque, we have comedian Ken Dodd, covering a sentimental ballad, first written in 1929.

Tears for souvenirs, Are all you left me… Mem’ries of a love, You never meant… The rhythm floats by like a placid river, the guitar trills, the strings swirl… Tears have been my only, Consolation… But tears can’t mend a broken heart, I must confess… He sings it perfectly well, but not spectacularly. I’m picturing a busker on the banks of the Seine, accompanied by an accordion (this would totally work in French, and was actually based on an old French aria from the 1870s.)

Is it a parody? A novelty? I don’t know. What it definitely is is a throwback. This is pure music hall. It’s not cool and it doesn’t care. A record for your gran. It’s almost not worth writing any more about ‘Tears.’ It is what it is. Move on.

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But. But, but, but… That really wouldn’t be fair. Because this isn’t a flash in the pan, one-week wonder. It’s a disc that lodged itself in at the top for five whole weeks – a length of time reserved solely these days for The Beatles. It was the biggest selling record of 1965. Let that sink in… In the year of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, ‘Help!’, ‘Satisfaction’, and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’; Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ outsold them all. It was the 3rd best-selling single of the entire decade, the only non-Beatles single in the Top 5. As of 2017, it still sat in 39th place on the list of best-selling singles ever. The middle of the road is always the best place from which to sell a record.

And then there’s the man behind the song. The voice that guides us through this tale of heartbreak and regret. Sir Ken Dodd, of the tickling sticks and the Diddy Men. Of Saturday night telly, Christmas pantos and the Blackpool lights. Of a type of humour and a style of show that was uniquely British. I know some of my readers are not British and… I don’t know if I can even begin to explain him. Look him up. I’m a bit young to have really been ‘into’ him, but my mum liked him. I think that this was the first record she ever bought… He died last year, aged ninety, having performed his final stand-up show just a few months earlier.

Not that this was his only musical success. He was a genuine chart presence throughout the sixties, with several other Top Tens. And I have to admit that, as I listen to ‘Tears’ now for the seventh or eighth time, with a glass (or two) of wine as I write, that this is a pretty nice song. A song that actually fits in quite well with the strings, and the lush production, found in the more ‘respectable’ pop songs of the time. (Plus – whisper it – I think I might be enjoying it more than the previous, overwrought #1, ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’…)

Anyway, before I get too carried away, and claim ‘Tears’ to be the most underrated pop song of the decade, or something, I’ll finish. And glancing forward… Ah yes, normal service is about to be resumed, with a vengeance.

203. ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’, by The Walker Brothers

From an angst-ridden clarion call for disaffected youth, to this. We have strings! A full-blown orchestral section. The top of the charts lurch from one extreme to another, like a slightly edgier version of the Royal Variety Performance.

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Make It Easy on Yourself, by The Walker Brothers (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd – 30th September 1965

We’re in a classy cabaret. All velvet drapes and green-shaded lamps on the tables. Where a melancholy, Spector-ish intro moves into a very melancholy opening line. Oh, breaking up, Is so, Very hard to do… A hook that we’ll keep returning to throughout the song.

If you really love him, And there’s nothing, I can do… Don’t try to spare my feelings, Just tell me that we’re through… It’s a novel twist on the break-up song – another sign that pop music is growing up – in that the singer spends the whole song encouraging his girlfriend to split up with him. And if the way I hold you, Can’t compare to his embrace… Get it over with, he says. Don’t hang around. Make it easy on yourself. He’ll feel terrible, but then breaking up is, after all, so very hard to do…

The voice is velvety, and very, very croony. Check out the O-o-o-h baby… before the final chorus. So croony that at times it sounds a little insincere. A little like he’s playing up to the cameras, like he might not really be that bothered if she goes. I like it; and I don’t like it. I’m on the fence with it. It perhaps doesn’t help that I can’t help hearing Jarvis Cocker, who has unashamedly copied Scott Walker’s singing style to great effect since the 1980s, in every line.

The Walker Brother, like the Righteous Brothers before them, weren’t really brothers. It’s a stage name, one that adds to the slightly camp, cabaret-ish feel that this record has, a feeling that this record can’t quite escape. Maybe I’m hearing it all wrong, but it’s a song that sounds as if it’s being delivered with an arched eyebrow and a knowing wink. Or maybe that’s the point. The beauty of art is in the interpretation, after all.

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It’s another Bacharach & David number, originally written in 1962. I’ve not been keeping count, but this must put them at, or very near to, the top of the #1 record writing league. And, like so many of their compositions, it’s a song that just drips with that B & D class. It’s drenched in strings and portentous drums, and is another glowing example of Baroque pop, which is fast becoming the sound of 1965. It’s a record with a great pedigree, one of the first chart appearances by a man who has left a huge mark on popular music, from Bowie to Pulp to The Arctic Monkeys, and I just wish I could like it more…

The Walkers – Scott, Gary and John – were American but, in a sort of reverse British Invasion, enjoyed quicker and longer lasting success in the UK. They will appear one more time at the top of the charts here, with a song that – if I remember correctly – is even classier and glossier than this one, and that might just help me to ‘get’ them.

My first ever exposure to ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’, though, came long before I’d ever heard of Scott Walker, or Baroque Pop, or knew what a Wall of Sound was. In 2001, the opening strings from this #1 were sampled by Ash, on their #20 hit ‘Candy’. Ash are a great pop-rock band, who have never come anywhere near topping the charts, so I’d like to take this – my one and only chance to give them a shout-out. If you’ve never heard them, check them out.

Catch up with the previous 202 number-ones here:

202. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones

You know how, nowadays, when seen through jaded 2019 eyes, ‘The Exorcist’ isn’t that scary, and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ isn’t that shocking, and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ sounds a bit lightweight? Well, I wondered if the same might happen here. If ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, one of the angriest, most provocative singles of the sixties, might have lost its edge.

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, by The Rolling Stones (their 4th of eight #1s)

2 weeks, from 9th – 23rd September 1965

Press play, though, and let that jackhammer of a riff run through you. That scuzzy, incessant guitar which sounds as if it’s ripping your speakers open, that doesn’t let up right through this near four-minute song. You soon realise that this fifty-five year old song is still full of spite and aggro.

Jagger’s vocals, when they come in, are – in contrast – soft, almost whispered. I can’t get no, Satisfaction… Cos I try, And I try, And I try… But he quickly build ups to the famous shout: I Can’t Get No! It’s a statement of intent. A rallying cry. I love the fact that it knocked ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ off the top spot.

Then we get to the verses. And, again, we’re treading new ground here. This is a #1 single with an attitude, and a conscience. When I’m drivin’ in my car, And a man comes on the radio, An’ he’s tellin’ me more and more, About some useless information… It’s a critique on commercialism, and capitalism, in a pop song! Later on, Mick is watching TV, and is getting fed up with all the adverts for clothes detergent and cigarettes. It’s leaving him unsatisfied, empty. We’re a long way from ‘I’m Into Something Good’ here. Now, The Stones were no hippies. That’s for certain. They’ll try their hand at psychedelica, for a while, but their hearts won’t be in it. Yet this is definitely one of the first counter-culture, ‘stick it to the man’ hit records. Hippyish in spirit; certainly not in sound.

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However, it’s the final verse that, at the time, caused most of the controversy. ‘Satisfaction’ was either edited down, had its lyrics changed, or was simply not played at all on British radio and TV. Because suddenly Jagger’s not singing about existentialist ‘satisfaction’ – about being bombarded with advertising bullshit. He’s talking about the other kind of ‘satisfaction’. The girl reaction kind. This is The Stones, after all. And I had no idea, until it came to writing this post, that the line in which the girl turns him down due to her being on a losing streak was a reference to her having her period!

It ends, much like their previous #1, ‘The Last Time’, with a bit of a wig-out, with Jagger yelling the famous refrain out over the fade. Every time I write about a Stones chart-topper, I mention how ‘nasty’, or how ‘grown up’ they sound, in comparison to everyone else around at the time. And they are getting nastier by the record. Compare their jaunty, bluesy debut at the top – ‘It’s All Over Now’ – to this.

This might be their fourth number one, meaning that we are halfway through their chart-topping run, but you can argue that it wasn’t until ‘Satisfaction’ that The Stones truly arrived. Gone were the covers of old blues songs. Jagger and Richards were now the main song-writing duo, with Brian Jones ably assisting. This was their first US #1, and suddenly they were the (second) biggest band on the planet. And if you think that this is a nasty, cynical, rebellious piece of rock ‘n’ roll, just wait until you hear their next chart-topper, coming up very shortly indeed.

201. ‘I Got You Babe’, by Sonny & Cher

In which we meet a guy called Sonny and a gal called Cher. One of whom would go on to become a Republican politician; one of whom wouldn’t. I wonder which one it’ll be…?

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I Got You Babe, by Sonny & Cher (her 1st of four #1s)

2 weeks, from 26th August – 9th September 1965

Before all of that, their debut single. And what a way to get your careers started – with an international chart-topper. A song that’s still well known to this day. Ubiquitous, even. They say we’re young, And we don’t know, Won’t find out until we grow… Y’all know the rest. But, having listened to it several times now, I’m realising that it’s a very difficult record to define. Is it pop? Is it folk? Is it country? Is there a whiff of Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound in there?

It’s a dense, textured record – lots of bells and tambourines and other slightly unusual sounding instruments that you don’t normally get in a pop song, chiming in along with a slightly droney rhythm. It’s Baroque pop – pop that incorporates classical elements. The Beach Boys, The Walker Brothers and The Beatles were all beginning to experiment with harpsichords and strings. Neither of which feature on ‘I Got You Babe’, though I think you can hear a French horn or two.

It’s a grown-up sounding pop record. A feature of 1965 so far through chart-toppers from The Righteous Brothers, Georgie Fame and so on, a further step away from simple Beat-pop. Except… lyrically, ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ is ultra-simple. They say our love won’t pay the rent, Before it’s earned our money’s all been spent… etc. etc. Culminating in Sonny’s lines in the bridge: I’ve got flowers, In the spring, I’ve got you, To wear my ring… It’s cutesy cutesy and a little hippy dippy. And the ending, where they list all the things that they have one another for – I’ve got you, To hold me tight… and so on, is a bit much.

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I have to admit, this has never been a song that I’ve loved. And writing this post hasn’t changed my mind. It’s too cute, too twee. Two teenagers in love, regardless of what the world thinks. Musically, yes, it’s another step forward but the lyrics are eighth-grade Valentine’s card level. And to call them teenagers isn’t strictly correct – Cher was nineteen when this hit the top, whereas Sonny was thirty…

What of Cher? There’s little going on here to suggest that she’s going to become one of the biggest female stars of the late twentieth century. She doesn’t even really sound like Cher yet. No autotune, maybe… The voice does come through in certain lines, though – rey-unt and spey-unt for example. She sounds a bit hesitant, a little shy, though she does deliver her lines in the bridge magnificently – You’re always aro-o-o-ound… and by the end she’s belting it out.

By the time we hear from her next, Cher will be stratospherically famous. But that won’t be for a while. A cover version of ‘I Got You Babe’, by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, will top the charts before Cher appears there again. Meanwhile, Sonny Bono is the one who will go on to become the Republican politician (give yourself a round of applause if you guessed that right) before dying tragically in a skiing accident in 1998. They divorced as early as 1975, which kind of undermines the message of their only chart-topper together. ‘I Got You (Until We Split Up In a Decade) Babe’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

200. ‘Help!’, by The Beatles

And it’s two hundred not out! Two hundred UK #1 singles covered; plenty more where they came from… And this isn’t a bad little record with which to celebrate our mini-milestone!

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Help!, by The Beatles (their 8th of seventeen #1s)

3 weeks, from 5th – 26th August 1965

Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody! Help! You know I need someone! He-e-elp… It looks ridiculous written out like that, doesn’t it? If you told somebody that you were going to write a pop song with those as the introductory lines they would probably laugh at you. Then look nervously away… But, The Beatles were the some of the best producers of pop that the world has ever seen, and this may well be their best pop moment.

Or, you know, it might be ‘She Loves You’, or ‘Please Please Me’, or ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, or ten other of their songs… Let me rephrase. This may or may not be their best pure pop moment, but it is their last. ‘Help!’ is a bit of a step back, after the stoned haziness of ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’. This is the same Beatles that gave us ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ – all floppy-haired enthusiasm and cheeky winks.

Except… listen to the lyrics. It’s an upbeat, summery pop song (from the soundtrack to their latest movie), but by God the words are bleak. When I was younger, So much younger than today, I never needed anybody’s help in any way… But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured… and Every now and then I feel so insecure, I know that I just need you like, I’ve never done before… do not your average pop song make. In the film, the cry for ‘help’ is from Ringo, who finds himself about to become the sacrificial victim of an Oriental cult (as you do…) In real life, the cry for help was John’s. His life, as the leader of the most popular band in the world, was getting to him.

I’ve never suffered from depression. But I know people who have, and the line: Help me if you can, I’m feeling down, And I do appreciate you being round… seems to be just about the most perfect description of the disease. The knowledge that nobody can really help you feel better; but that just knowing people are still around brings you some comfort. That’s it. Summed up in two perfect lines.

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Musically this is a short and simple song. But many of the best pop songs are. With The Beatles it’s often the small things that make their hits stand out over and above their contemporaries. The opening chord on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, for example. On ‘Help!’, it’s the way that the backing singers’ lines (the countermelody, if you will) weave, and twist, and sometimes even precede the lead vocal. The Now I find… and the My independence… lines are the best examples. It’s the little touches like this that made the Fab Four peerless.

So, that’s it for the ‘pop’ Beatles. In 1966 they’ll stop performing live, smoke even more weed, start getting lost in India… all for another day. For now, press play on the link below and enjoy them as the mop-top Fabs for one last time. Plus, what with this being chart-topper #200, this seems like a good place to stop for a brief moment of reflection.

Chart-topper #1 – Al Martino’s pre-rock epic ‘Here in My Heart’ kicked it all off. It’s from another era – another planet – entirely. By the time we got to chart-topper #100 – Anthony Newley’s twee little ‘Do You Mind’ – we had traversed the rock ‘n’ roll era and were about to get stuck in the early-sixties slump of Elvis soundtrack songs and ‘death-discs’. And now here we are with #200. ‘Help!’ Perhaps the very final Beat-pop number-one. Experimental times lie ahead… I published chart-topper #1 at the end of January last year, to precisely zero interest, and so I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has since decided to join up for the journey. Your views, likes and comments sustain me! #100 was posted at the very start of November last year, and now here’s #200 at the end of August. A rate of a hundred every nine months. So… We should reach #300 by May 2020 (T.Rex, btw!) And which means we should reach the current UK number one (#1357) in about a decade… Hang on in there!

Remind yourself of all 200 of the first chart-toppers, here:

199. ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, by The Byrds

Heading towards the big two zero zero, and our next record opens with a riff that every man and his dog has heard, probably more than once. File it alongside ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and ‘You Really Got Me’ as one of the most prominent riffs to have wound up at the top of the charts so far.

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Mr. Tambourine Man, by The Byrds (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 22nd July – 5th August 1965

But, unlike the two records I just mentioned, this isn’t an aggressive riff. There’s no lust here. It’s a riff that, instead, aims for the heart. It’s the musical equivalent of the sun streaming out from behind a cloud. And when the vocals kick in it only adds to the effect. Hey mister tambourine man, Play a song for me… I’m not sleepy and, There ain’t no place I’m goin’ to… Suddenly we’re in California, on a long stretch of golden sand, watching the surf break and the gulls soar…

Lyrically, too, we’re far from home. These are the most abstract, poetic lyrics we’ve heard in this countdown. ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ is the only #1 so far to have an ‘Interpretations’ section to its Wikipedia page. Take me for a trip upon your magic swirling ship, Oh my senses have been stripped, And my hands can’t feel to grip… Not weird enough for you? How about the moment when you expect a chorus (I love the way they draw it out, prolong the pleasure, by adding this gorgeous bridge) but get an insistent plea: I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade, On to my own parade, Cast your dancin’ spell my way…

Huh. I think, you know, that they may be making some drug references there. Going for trips, and senses being stripped… It’s the summer of ’65, and counter-culture has arrived at the top of the UK singles charts. The sixties are really starting to swing. Groovy, baby!

It’s not just the lyrics that feel like something new, though. There’s the jingle-jangle guitars (referenced in the jingle-jangle morning lyric), the structure of the song – chorus, verse, verse, chorus – and the long, trippy fade-out. As with so many of our chart-toppers over the past two years, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ sounds like the stakes being raised. It’s the sound of pop music being pushed forward.

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It’s folk rock, but it’s a mile away from the couple of folk rock hits we’ve covered previously. The Highwaymen’s ‘Michael’ sounds like it was from another century – well, it was 1961 – while The Seekers sounded like they were merely playing at being folkies. The Byrds are the real deal. Who was the tambourine man? What was his ship? Does it matter? Just listen, and let yourself be swept away… Meanwhile, this song’s folk-rock credentials are helped massively by the fact it was written by a certain Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Bob Dylan will never (gasp!) top the singles charts as an artist. But this is the first of three #1s that he will enjoy as a composer. (I think it’s three… please correct me if I’m wrong… He has written an awful lot of songs…) Dylan’s version is, naturally, twice as long as this one – and it’s safe to say that The Byrds make it their own. He’s also gone on to deny that it’s in any way about drugs. So there you go.

‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ was The Byrds first hit in both the US and the UK – impressive considering they had only formed the year before. Following this, they were more successful in their homeland (‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ hit the top there while it only reached #26 in Britain.) But even in the US their popularity didn’t last long. They were just too darn experimental, it seems, to maintain chart success. They went psychedelic, then Indian, then country, all the while changing members like most bands change socks… It couldn’t last; but their influence lingers on.

I’ve mentioned it many times before, but the vast majority of Merseybeat, R&B and rock groups that we’ve met since the Beat explosion have been British. Compare that to the fifties, when every rock ‘n’ roll hit, good or bad, was coming from across the Atlantic. Slowly but surely, though, the Americans are now staking their claim on the sixties. We’ve had some Motown, some Spector-patented Wall of Sound, and now some sun-drenched Californian folk-rock. There may not be too many US #1s at the moment; but when they do arrive, they’re golden.

198. ‘I’m Alive’, by The Hollies

Finally, after all the recent gospel, jazz and country, we’re back on track. This is more like it. This is what the sixties were meant to sound like…

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I’m Alive, by The Hollies (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 24th June – 1st July / 2 weeks from 8th – 22nd July 1965 (3 weeks total)

This record is like a ‘Best of the Sixties’ compilation distilled down into a two and a half minute song. Let’s take it step by step… The intro is pure Merseybeat – light, chiming guitars – with a generous side order of Doo-Wop. Doo- doodoodoodoodoodoodoo… Then in comes in a husky, Lennon-ish voice: Did you ever see a man with no heart, Baby that was me… It’s all about a man who had never lived before, until his girl came along. It’s an upbeat and positive song. A song that puts you in a good mood. He’s alive!

The build-up to the chorus is very Beatles-y. Think a milder version of their ‘Twist and Shout’. Now I can breathe, I can see, I can touch, I can feel… Each line ascends ahead of the previous one, until the singer punches the chorus out: I never felt like this… I’m alive! I’m alive! I’m alive! End, and repeat.

Then the solo, which is a bit more hard hitting. Think tinny Kinks’ guitars with a bit of Stones swagger thrown in. And by the end, they’ve gone full on Who – with Keith Moon style drum fills and a frenetic rock-out to the end. Sprinkle the tiniest hint of psychedelica in the guitar reverb, and soupçon of Beach Boys in the backing vocals, and there you have it. I mentioned in recent posts that Jackie Trent and Sandie Shaw’s recent #1s were the most ‘sixties-sounding’ pop hits and now, well, I think we have the rock equivalent. We are slap-bang in the middle of the decade, and the sixties have never sounded sixtieser. It’s the perfect mix of old-style rock ‘n’ roll, Merseybeat and the newer, harder-edged rock. It’s a great little record.

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The Hollies were also, like so many of the bands that they sound like, from the north-east of England, and went through the same Cavern Club circuit as all their peers. Founded by Allan Clarke and Graham Nash (later of Crosby, Stills and Nash), they started out as an Everly Brothers style duo before adding a few more members. Their name is – as you may have guessed – a tribute to Buddy Holly. ‘I’m Alive’ was far from being their first hit; nor was it their last. They would go on to have Top 10s well into the seventies, and were the 9th biggest chart-act of the sixties. Not bad, considering that they were up against Elvis, Cliff, The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks and more in that list.

And I have to admit that they are the one big sixties rock group that have passed me by. I know ‘Just One Look’ – another mid-decade pop classic – and ‘Stop Stop Stop’, as well as their later, mellower hits ‘He Ain’t Heavy…’ and ‘The Air That I Breathe’. But I should know more, and will explore their back-catalogue as soon as I’ve finished writing this post. ‘I’m Alive’ was their only UK #1* and that, given their chart longevity, feels like a surprise.

But, before you give delve into their Greatest Hits, give this record one more spin. A song that sounds like the love-child of every prominent sixties rock ‘n’ roll band, a record that faces both forward and back, a record that did a weird mid-summer’s dance with Elvis’s ‘Crying in the Chapel’ (Elvis was #1, then The Hollies, then Elvis, then The Hollies again) at the top of the charts. A classic, that almost slipped through the gaps.

*(My first ever footnote!) Actually, The Hollies will have one further UK chart-topper, with a re-release in precisely twenty-three and a bit years, for Miller-Lite based reasons that we’ll go into when we get there.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3sSYyPEUCTyMjMlN55z8SX?si=bb8dN5HuQtSgwGJDFDWTCQ